Somewhere in Birmingham, England, a teacher has been using my book A Good Home to teach English to her students.
Why? I wondered as I read her email.
You see, I never knew what readers would make of my book. For one thing, so much of it was written piece by piece, over many years – a series of private memoirs, an ongoing “journal” never meant to be published. My writing was descriptive, yes, but also simple.
I wrote about what I was seeing, hearing, thinking and feeling at the time. About my family, neighbours, friends. A special home. A beloved pet. A garden. A flower. A chance encounter. And even a tragedy or two.
Not for others to read, but for myself. Because I wanted to remember those moments.
“It’s an excellent example of descriptive, emotive writing”, the English teacher wrote.
My reply must have been a disappointment. It’s easily the least descriptive thing I’ve ever written.
“I’m at a loss for words,” I wrote, still stunned. But good manners kicked in. I gave her a heartfelt thank-you.
Now that I’ve gotten over my surprise, I can tell you this: she made my day. In fact, she made my whole week.
“Someone’s using my book to teach English,” I silently repeated.
From her home in Toronto, a woman sent me an email. She said she’d nurtured the dream of returning to the thing she loved most – writing – but years had passed and she still couldn’t find the right space or time to do it.
I urged her to stop for a few minutes. To record a thought, an image, a scene — anything … and never mind about making it sound fancy.
“Write,” I’d told her. “Just write.”
Later, I followed up with another email: “Have you written today?”
This week, I got an email from her. She’s back at her craft… and using the story of our exchanges to inspire others. These “others” are people I will likely never meet. But with luck, at least one of them will similarly encourage and inspire someone else.
With a few words in their email notes, the English teacher and the Toronto writer both gave me a gift — at a time when I needed to be uplifted.
The original email exchanges with the Toronto writer, for example, happened at a time when my body was so inflamed with pain that I felt useless and miserable – unable to help myself or anyone else. Dragging myself to the computer was unbelievably difficult. It never occurred to me that the few words I wrote would help to change someone’s life.
Nor, I suspect, did the teacher or the writer know what a positive impact their own words would have on me. But then again, I didn’t know that the ongoing “journal” of moments in my life would become a book that others would value.
But this much I know:
Words have power. We don’t know, when we write them, how they will affect others. But they do.
This post is dedicated to Paddy Chung and his wife Jacqui, two of my favorite people, whose words and deeds are uplifting. Not surprisingly, I wrote about them in my book. (You may even remember them from “The Harvest”.)